Mike O’Callaghan was right.
That’s no surprise. He was mostly right. Whether it was during his war years when he gave so much of himself (not just his leg) to save the lives of others; or during his tenure as chief probation officer in the 1960s when deciding whether to drive an errant teenager home to his parents or to juvenile hall into less friendly arms; or whether as governor of Nevada for eight years (by most accounts the best governor Nevada had to that date and, perhaps, since) when banging heads at the Nevada Legislature was an early-morning sport at which he excelled; or as the chairman of this newspaper’s board and its executive editor for more than 20 years, during which time he held political feet to the fire and protected those who could barely cover their feet with warm socks and shoes, Mike was right in all that he did to help his fellow Nevadans.
I mention this during my first column of 2011, a year that all of us hope and pray is a new beginning for our beloved Nevada, because Mike O’Callaghan is a man worthy of never forgetting and because his words of warning to me 37 years ago have finally hit home.
It was in 1973 that Gov. O’Callaghan had come down to Las Vegas for a few days to work. In those days he stayed with his dear friends Eileen and George Brookman.
I had gotten to know Mike in his professional capacity as probation officer looking for curfew-violating teens (I will tell you I never gave him a reason to decide whether to drive me home or to juvie, although I am sure he looked the other way a time or two) and we remained not only good friends, but also developed a mentoring relationship once I learned what the word meant!
In any event, I was visiting Mike at the Brookmans’ when the news came on the television about the Watergate hearings and all that was being uncovered. Mike told me that for at least a generation and, possibly two, Americans and our political process were going to suffer greatly.
He explained that people, who before Watergate trusted government to do what was best for them, would not be so trusting anymore. He said young people, many of whom already mistrusted their parents’ generation, would be hard-pressed to ever trust government again.
Welcome to 2011. The young people of the Vietnam generation grew up. And their distrust of government has grown with them. And the grown-up generation that lost faith in government after Watergate is now either gone or enjoying its golden years — and, for the most part, leading nowhere near the lives they envisioned for themselves decades ago.
Two current events cause me to reflect on Mike’s prescient words.
The first is the ridiculous story that made the front pages of newspapers and was headline-leading news across the country on TV sets and iPads. It was the reading of the U.S. Constitution on the floor of the House.
What it was was a childish display of political pique — participated in by both parties — that was supposed to show this country’s reverence for our founding document. I do not take issue with people reading the Constitution. In fact, one of the things that ails us as a democracy is that too few people in this country have ever read that document nor do they have a clue what it means once they do read it.
Where I take issue is the waste of time that took place and the message it sent to people who are still looking for work across this country. This new Congress was supposed to bring us jobs. Instead, one of the first things it did was create a reading lesson. A lesson, I might add, that was wasted on 95 percent of the members of the House.
Those folks know what is in the Constitution, for God’s sake. Didn’t you see them carry it around on the campaign trail?
No, the wrong folks were reading it. The people who need to know what is in the Constitution are the people who allow themselves to be swayed by campaign ads and political charlatans who claim to know what that document says and means. Those people are “we the people” who, for the most part, don’t have a clue what the Constitution says and what centuries of legal jurisprudence have determined that it means.
If we don’t have that knowledge, we are prone to being hornswoggled by tea drinkers who believe in the Constitution, but only the parts they agree with. The bottom line is that Mike was right. Watergate has exacted a price in both the quality of people who present themselves for election and the quality of voters who have continued to distrust the very institutions of government from which they now demand assistance.
The second event was the release of the Brookings Mountain West report titled, “Structurally Unbalanced: Cyclical and Structural Deficits in California and the Intermountain West.” It was co-authored by Brookings Mountain West at UNLV and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.
To say it was scary is an understatement but it also presented a picture for Nevada’s future that can be quite different from the one we will get if we stay the course — which it appears our new governor is willing to do.
This is a discussion of facts that have been compiled, digested, considered and contemplated by people who study these things for a living. They are not ideologically based conclusions that use certain facts to bolster their case.
This report makes clear the decisions we have to make — and soon — about Nevada’s future if, indeed, we are to have one worthy of our dreams. It should be required reading for all Nevadans — speaking of pipe dreams.
Mike would have been the first governor in the country to devour the pages of the report. And then he would have acted. We have a brand new governor, Brian Sandoval. He made that silly pledge about no new taxes when he was running for election. He has reiterated his pledge since that time. That makes the path toward destruction set forth in the Brookings report that much closer to reality.
Since I am an eternal optimist, I will hold out hope that our governor really wants to do what is best for the people of this state. I am pretty sure Gov. Sandoval has read the Constitution. I am also pretty sure he has not yet read the Brookings paper.
I suggest he do that, and then let’s see if he acts appropriately. Maybe this is the time for that Watergate curse to be broken.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.